By Norris Burkes Feb 21, 2020
Marvin Zindler was a Houston news broadcaster in the 80s and 90s whom viewers loved to hate, or maybe more accurately, “hated to love.” He was a consumer champion of Houston’s poor. He was famous for concluding his commentary with a grating, ear-splitting, moniker – IT’S HELL TO BE POOR! (YouTube videos available).
Back then, my young Baptist self was affronted with his on-air “profanity,” but I’ve come to learn that the poor of this nation live an existence too profane to express in words. This is especially true when the poor run afoul of the criminal justice system.
For instance, years ago I was a chaplain on the pediatric ward where a patient’s mother asked me if I could drive her to a vehicle impound yard.
She was in school, working, and has two kids. She let her boyfriend drive her car to the hospital without a license, so police impounded the car. Her impound fees were $300 a day. Bad to worse, it was closing time on Friday. The couple lost their car because it wasn’t worth the cost of removing it from the impound.
Impound can be a license to steal from the poor. In fact, according to a Sacramento Bee story in 2014 that’s literally what police did in King City, Calif., when they “…impounded cars of migrant workers in a kickback scheme to sell the cars.”
The incident helped me see how easily problems snowball for the poor.
Imagine if you were a single working mom, or a minimum-wage worker or on disability like my brother. You were arrested on a misdemeanor. You couldn’t afford bail, so you remained in jail. This meant you lost your job at the coffee shop and couldn’t make rent. Quickly you were out on the street with no way to feed your young child. All before guilt was ascertained.
When a poor person is arrested or becomes ill, their problems grow exponentially.
Last week, I saw a friend face similar issues when his daughter was arrested. He needed financial help to hire a lawyer to get his daughter out of jail. Now before you start chanting, “Lock her up,” you should know that this case is a complicated maze of circumstances.
I attended the arraignment hearing where I watched the woman stand in a cage with five other women. Those women were dependent on an overloaded public defender they were meeting for the first time.
However, my friend’s daughter had a private attorney. Within a few minutes, the attorney convinced the prosecutor that the problem was alcohol, not crime. As a result, after three nights in jail, the woman was freed on her own recognizance, free to take care of her son and begin attending AA meetings.
The other women in the cage, one pregnant, were not free to go. My guess is that they were hellishly poor.
This is an election year in which we face questions about healthcare for all, education and benefits for the poor. I won’t tell you how to vote, but I will ask you to consider the hellishness of being trampled upon in the economic disparity of our system.
Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.’”
My friend’s daughter returns to court next month. I’m praying that when the District Attorney will drop the charges.
Yup. It’s hell to be poor!
On election day, if people of faith are really interested in keeping people out of hell, let’s start by helping people climb out of the hell of poverty.
Reader Note: Next month’s volunteer trip to Honduras is full. Contact me about a second trip from March 29 – April 5 at firstname.lastname@example.org or 10566 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.